Kyrgyzstan does not have much of a railway system. A branch line from Moscow extends down from Kazakhstan to Bishkek, the Kyrgyzstan capital; another offers an excruciatingly slow service to Balykchy on Lake Issyk-Kul. Another line extends from Jalal-Abad in the south into Uzbekistan, although trains no longer run on this one. All of these routes date back to Soviet times but even then, Kyrgyzstan, or the the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic as it was in those days, sat on the outer fringes of the USSR, closer to China than to Moscow. All the more surprising then that, wherever you go in post-independence Kyrgyzstan, you tend to see Soviet-era railway carriages re-located and re-purposed as dwellings, shops, storerooms and even roadside tea-houses. What is most striking is how these are often located far away from a railway line or anything that even resembles a serviceable road. Bump along a rough stony track up to an isolated jailoo (alpine meadow with summer grazing) and the chances are that the nomadic family you meet there will have use of a rusting railway wagon parked somewhere near their yurt. Yurts are ubiquitous in the mountains in summer, and so central to the Kyrgyz way of life that the tunduk, the circular wooden centrepiece of the roof, appears on the national flag. But recycled decommissioned railway wagons have their part to play too, even if rusted metal is less aesthetically pleasing than white felt. In poor countries undergoing rapid transition like Kyrgyzstan, such a resource is too useful to be wasted.
All the above images ©Laurence Mitchell.
From top to bottom: 1 – 4 Karkara valley, close to Kazakhstan border; 5 Tamga village, Lake Issyk-Kul ; 6 Bel-Tam, Lake Issyk-Kul; 7, 8 Kochkor, Naryn province; 9 Suusumayr village, Chuy province; 10 Roadside near Too-Ashuu Pass; 11 Roadside near Ala-Bel Pass
16 Replies to “Kyrgyzstan railway wagons”
Thank you for sharing these amazing photos 🙂
Thank you for visiting.
Enjoyed this very much. Well spotted as well!
Thank you very much, Paul.
Wonderful images, Laurence! To use a landscape-related term, it strikes me that these wagons are like cultural (as opposed to glacial) erratics, whose presence, through interpretation, can tell us something about the forces and processes that shaped the place in which they are located.
Thank you very much, Alan. You are absolutely right – the wagons can be considered to be cultural erratics deposited during the last political glaciation in the Central Asian region.
Glad to see you are (or have been) in Kyrgyzstan again, Laurence. Central Asia is a place I don’t know enough about, and so I’m so glad you have expertise, and take us along with you. More!
Thanks, Bill. I’ll be travelling to Kyrgyzstan again later this year to do an update on the book for a new edition.
Those railway wagons look familiar – Sam and I saw a few. What about all those shipping containers too?
Thanks to you we went to Kyrgyzstan and loved it. Penny
Thank you, Penny. I am delighted that I inspired you to go to Kyrgyzstan.
Yes, the shipping containers too. They stack them up in outdoor markets like that at Dordoi. I also saw half a dozen welded together to build a house in Kochkor!
Love the pictures. Must have been amazing out there. Have you tried their hangover food Ashlyam Fu?
Thanks Micky. Yes, it is good even without a hangover. It is actually a Dungan (Chinese Muslim) dish, especially popular in Karakol near Lake Issyk-Kul. Not sure it is that widely available across the whole Central Asian region.